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Justice Film Fest Comes To Town, Low-Key On Evangelical Leanings

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on May 31, 2015 7:00PM

Logo © 2015 Justice Film Festival
Chicago's ever-growing niche film festival calendar has another addition—at least for one year—as the Justice Film Festival comes to the Windy City, following fests in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. This third showcase for films dealing with oppressed and at-risk people around the world opens Friday night at Columbia College's Film Row Cinema.

While the festival's activist agenda is clear, its theological slant is a little under the radar. The Justice Film Festival is presented in conjunction with the Justice Conference going on the same weekend at the Auditorium Theatre. That gathering of activists and Christian leaders is presented by World Relief, an evangelical organization that has earned both wide praise for its humanitarian efforts and criticism for government assistance that some see as a violation of the separation between church and state. World Relief's aid efforts also seem secondary to its evangelical mission, as this 2010 Seattle Times story about its hiring practices suggests.

All of this makes the festival's star-studded opening night film an interesting choice. Captive stars David Oyelowo, coming off his acclaimed performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, as well as Kate Mara, an Emmy nominee for her role on Netflix's House of Cards and star of the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. Based on Unlikely Angel, Ashley Smith's best-selling account of being taken hostage by convicted killer Brian Nichols, Captive features Mara as Smith and Oyelowo as Nichols.

While Smith's story was celebrated as a triumph of faith, as she had read passages from a best-selling evangelical book to deal with her captor, it later came to light that crystal meth may have played as much a part as God in her release. It's unclear how the upcoming Paramount release will address that dichotomy in the story, but it's worth noting that Oyelowo was very open about his Christianity when promoting Selma. Captive plays at 9:30 p.m. Friday, June 5 as the festival's opening night attraction.

Following a Saturday night rooftop party for VIP registrants and filmmakers only, the bulk of the festival runs on Sunday, June 7 from 9:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. Consisting mainly of feature-length and short documentaries, the films cover vital topics including human trafficking, educational system crises, poverty, the technology gap, homelessness, criminal justice failings, native population rights, natural disaster recovery and more.

The festival delivers on its promise of a global scope, covering deep-rooted problems in the United States, Uganda, Nepal, Vietnam, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Thailand, Liberia, Japan, India and Guatemala. Awards will be presented for Best Feature Film, Best Short Film and Best Justice Film.

General admission tickets are $25 and give you entry to any film. VIP tickets are $55 and get you reserved seats for all films as well as admission to the VIP party. For the complete festival schedule, ticket ordering links and more information, click here.